Season 5 - Episode 525
From national championships and Big 12 titles to new facilities and GPA records, the 2021-22 academic year heralded much to celebrate throughout Baylor Athletics. In this Baylor Connections, Mack Rhoades, Vice President and Director of Intercollegiate Athletics, examines key milestones from the past year, previews upcoming facilities, discusses the process of coaching searches and more.
Derek Smith:Hello, and welcome to Baylor Connections, a conversation series with the people shaping our future. Each week we go in-depth with Baylor leaders, professors, and more discussing important topics in higher education research student life. I'm Derek Smith. And today we are talking athletics with Baylor's Vice President and Director of Intercollegiate Athletics, Mack Rhodes. It was a great year in 2021-22. The school year saw Baylor win Big 12 titles in football, men's basketball, and women's basketball, a national championship in acrobatics and tumbling and a Big 12 tournament championship in men's tennis, leading a long list of post-season appearances throughout the department. Baylor student-athletes accomplished this while continuing to demonstrate excellence in the classroom as well. 324 student-athlete earned the title of Academic Champion making the spring the highest term on record with accumulative 3.33 GPA. The year also heralded construction on game-changing new facilities with summer groundbreaking plan for Paul and Alejandra Foster Pavilion and the Fudge Football Operations Center. Additionally, Baylor has announced new head coaches within the past year since we talked last with Mack Rhoades in track and field and baseball recently as well. A lot of exciting things to talk about Mack, and we really appreciate your time during this busy stretch. Thanks so much for joining us.
Mack Rhoades:Derek, always a pleasure and always a great opportunity to talk about one of my favorite subject matters, Baylor Athletics, so.
Derek Smith:Absolutely well, we've got so many great things to talk about. So I'll start you off with a very broad question. When you think of the 2021-22 athletic and academic year, are there words or images that come to mind right off the bat? And if there are, what are they?
Mack Rhoades:Gratefulness is certainly a word. Just our success is due to the wonderful people that I'm privileged to work alongside each and every day and just gratefulness to them, and it's everybody. It's natural to focus on our head coaches and executive team. And certainly, well-deserving, but it's everybody. It's our custodial crew. It's our crew in the bank, our nutrition area, the cooks, the servers. I mean, it's just, it's everybody. It's our facilities folks that set up, break down, tear down, put back up. So gratefulness is absolutely one of the words that comes to mind first and foremost. And then it's hard not to think about this past year without thinking about the goal-line stand in the championship game verse versus Oklahoma State. That just epitomized, I think who we are as an athletics program and Jairon McVea a walk-on had been here for many years and just the perseverance, the dedication to doing it right consistently. Certainly none of us perfect, but that appetite to continue to just try to get better and do it right all of the time. And so those are two things that really come to mind.
Derek Smith:Well, I think you've in part answered this question but let me ask you specifically. When you think of the successes that Baylor athletics has enjoyed in the face of the external challenges that you can't predict, some that every institution in America has seen, others specific to a conference perhaps, but how has Baylor athletics staff, student-athletes, and certainly, you and your office all worked together to stay moving forward on offense while also adjusting to, I don't know if defensive things are the right word, but the unexpected while staying focused on the big-time goals to keep the department moving ahead?
Mack Rhoades:Yeah. Thank you for that question. It's a great question. It's a balancing act and so there can be a lot of distractions. And so I think one of the things that we try to do is certainly control what we can control, focus on those things, double down on the fundamentals, so to speak. And so when we think about that right, first and foremost our purpose, why are we doing what we're doing and preparing champions for life? And our four pillars and certainly our mission statement, one accord, one standard, one accord, I should say, and the six operating principles. And so really always trying to stay very, very close to those fundamentals. And then also at the same time as best we can try to anticipate some of the issues that may be coming our way and being able to navigate those in a proactive way. And then there are times Derek where you just can't be proactive. All of a sudden, it's just, it's a punch to the gut. And you think about the conference realignment stuff. And so it's then about how do we react? How do we react in a timely manner, in a really smart and strategic way? And of course, all of this requires buy-in. It requires I think probably the most simplistic word is togetherness. All of us buying in, all of us believing in the same thing, all of us pulling in the same direction. And I think that's another reason why we've been successful because I really do believe we've got a group of people that clearly understands our purpose. And when we try to anticipate, when we try to react to a crisis, we do that together and support for one another. And, and so again, just grateful goes right back to our people.
Derek Smith:You have the athletic staff and then on the university side, so many people we could probably mention, but I want to ask not every university has someone like President Livingstone whose student-athlete experience and the work she does with the NCAA. Now, the Board of Governors, she works with the Big 12. How does her expertise further enhance that alignment you talk about?
Mack Rhoades:Well, Dr. Livingstone has a great understanding of college athletics. And I think because of her appointment to the Board of Governors and her work on the transformation committee, she has an understanding of being on the ground level and being in the trenches and really all of the things that we face on a day-to-day basis and understanding that this is probably going to get harder, not easier when we think about just the real life, the reality of some of the issues that we're facing now. Whether it's transfer portal, name, image, or likeness we may go to a system where it's unlimited coaches and everybody's on full scholarships. And so all of those things, she has an understanding of what that really means in reality. And I'm grateful that we are very closely connected on all of those issues and items. And that we have two-way conversations, probably more often than what we would like, but it's required. And that's the time that we're in and so grateful for her understanding, certainly, and her support.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Mack Rhoades. And Mack this spring we saw the announcement you signed an extension to stay at Baylor. What was it about Baylor, and even specifically Baylor now that makes this a place that you want to be and continue to pour into?
Mack Rhoades:Yeah, I'm just trying to think Derek, there's so many different things and I'm trying to narrow it down to the most important. I think it starts with my faith. I think that's that's primary and I can certainly be open. It's part of our workplace. It's part of our meetings and I've grown. My faith has grown since, since my time at Baylor. This has been a really good place for my wife, Amy, and our family. And we feel love not just me, but, but it's important that your whole family feels that, and they certainly feel love from the Baylor family. I think Waco's one of the most underrated communities in the country. It's such a great place to live and wonderful, wonderful people. You have a chance and an opportunity to do all of those things. When we think about preparing champions for life, the academic achievement, the athletic success, character formation, spiritual growth. There's not a lot of places that really value that. They say they do, but really, really value it here. We can be different. We can be unique. And again, I think because we have been, because we are, it's why we've had success. So it's all of those reasons. It's the wonderful people that I get to, again, work alongside each and every day. You know our head coaches, you've got relationships with them. They're wonderful people. They've got great humility, intellect, self-awareness, great executive team. And just, again, a wonderful group of people. So there's certainly a lot of reasons. People for years from the moment I took this job or people learned that I took this job, even up to now with the signing of a 10-year deal, that have questioned my intelligence. And you could be at a bigger brand. Why aren't you at... You should be at a bigger brand. all of those things and quite frankly, it doesn't mean a whole lot to me. I mean, I truly believe that Baylor's got a big brand and we have an opportunity to make the brand even bigger. And you've heard Dr. Livingston talk about higher education needs a Baylor university. Well, intercollegiate athletics needs a Baylor university as well. And I think we have an opportunity to be a shining light in all of the chaos that's coming, or that's upon us right now. So those are a lot of reasons. I apologize for the long answer, but those are ones that certainly come to mind. I love this place.
Derek Smith:No, that's great. The great answer and a lot of great possibilities to talk about here as we visit with Mack Rhodes on Baylor Connections. Mack is Baylor's vice president and director of intercollegiate athletics. A couple things you mentioned, one I want to ask you about first. You mentioned the world needs a Baylor and the world needs a Baylor athletics. We've seen a lot of success, both on the field and on the university side, not that they're different. But when you think about R1 attainment and really highly academically qualified classes, how much did the successes on the university side that maybe might seem separate on paper from athletics impact athletics?
Mack Rhoades:Yeah, great question. Again, I spoke to it a little bit, but I think it just building our brand makes Baylor University even a stronger brand. And I'm being intentional to be careful on how I say this, but it's value-added. You're now talking to families and recruits' parents and grandparents and uncles and aunts. And you're talking about, "Hey, you come to Baylor and receive an undergraduate education at an institution that's ranked in the top 80 I believe in US News and World Report. And it's now an R1 institution, a Carnegie Foundation Research 1 institution, and man, those things are important. And for the families and the young women and men that we talk to that really value education, I think it's important. And so I will tell you that our provost, Nancy Brickhouse was unbelievably excited when we won the football Big 12 Championship Game. And I'd like to say that we were, I was equally excited when we achieved R1 status and so huge for our university and Illuminate. And you haven't even mentioned the Give Light capital Campaign and surpassing a billion dollars and never done that before. And so it's just, I think and I didn't use the word previously for one of your previous questions, but the word that comes to mind is unity. And I think if we're all united on this campus, Baylor will continue to have a bright, bright future.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Mack Rhoades and Mack you mentioned the academic side of things. We said at the top of the program an all-time, best semester, 324 student-athletes earning the Academic Champion title, cumulative 3.33 GPA, not to mention their great work on the field. If you were talking to a colleague from another institution and bragging about Baylor's student-athletes, what would you tell him or her?
Mack Rhoades:You are asking a questions that I probably have about 50 answers deep.
Derek Smith:I gotcha.
Mack Rhoades:Because there's so many great things to say about our student-athletes. I would first and foremost say that they're just really good people and look, you're 17 to 21, 22, maybe even 23 years old, right? You're growing, you're learning, you're going to make some mistakes. None of us are perfect, starting with me. But they're just really good people. They're thoughtful, they're caring. I think many of them are selfless. They understand the concept of team. They understand that there's a bigger picture and yet they've got this drive to be the very, very best they can be in everything. And I thought about the word over achiever and I'm not even sure that's an accurate description because I think so many of them come in that are so talented already. But this idea, you mentioned it in terms of academics, student-athletes but personal best I think that's the one thing that resonates is we've really challenged our student-athletes to be the very best they can in everything they do. And they've accepted that challenge. And, and they're meeting it each and every day. Again, we talk about person over player and we value them for the people they are, and not the home runs that they hit or the goals they score or and so they're just, man, they're just... I love being around them. I don't know any other way to say it Derek, but there's not a team that we have here that I just don't love being around those student-athletes, love having conversation with. We're just blessed. We just got a bunch of really great young women and men.
Derek Smith:That's fantastic. As we visit with Mack Rhoades here on the program. And Mack as we head to the final few minutes, I want to ask you both about coaching hires and you mentioned earlier Give Light new facilities that the Baylor family has poured into. Ask you about, about coaching briefly first. Last week we welcome Mitch Thompson as the 20th head coach at Baylor baseball. I know there's a lot of interest in the way you and your team go about hiring a new coach. So I won't ask you for any proprietary secrets or anything, but to the extent that you can tell us what helps you find the right man, the right woman? What makes a Mitch Thompson or Nicki Collen or a Michael Ford or a Dave Aranda? How you determine that they're the right one? What stands out to you that you would share about finding the right person?
Mack Rhoades:Well, I think you heard me say it at Coach Thompson's press conference, that it's probably more art than science. But we're not going to leave anything to chance. The things that we can certainly control and be really, really good at. So I think one, it starts with knowing who we are, really having an understanding of who we are and what fit is, and really staying true to the characteristics that we look for in a candidate. And there's a lot of them. And when you look at candidates of those characteristics some are really, really strong in some of them and maybe not as strong in others. And so we certainly spend time there, but I will tell you, we probably focus less on the technical piece of it. Can you coach? Can you develop? We probably spend more time on the culture piece of it, the leadership piece of it. We talk about, yes, they're head coaches, but they're really leaders of young people. And how do they do that? How well do they do that? Can they put people and surround themselves with people that are going to make them better? So those are all of the things that we think about, that we're intentional about. We spend time in an interview process talking about their relationships with other people throughout the department, throughout the campus. And as I alluded to at Coach Thompson's press conference I'll spend some time on the phone with them alone just trying to see if there's connectivity and philosophical alignment. And if there is then we take that time to meet with people in person. And then even after that, man, I may have to go back and have some additional conversation. So we've been blessed. And I think finally, hey as mentioned, we really truly believe all searches are our journeys, and Dear Lord, Dear God lead us, lead us to that right person. Because it's really important. It's really important if we believe in preparing champions for life that we have a coach that embraces all of that.
Derek Smith:Well, we've got a great roster of coaches, for sure, as we visit with Mack Rhodes. And Mack, as we head into the final moments we couldn't close without talking about we see dirt moving. Waco's had plenty of construction, but even more exciting projects coming. What with the new Foster Pavilion will be taking shape right behind Robinson Tower, the Fudge Football Operations Center. What kind of timeline are those on? And even maybe more importantly, what are you most excited about seeing not only their impact but the ways the Baylor family is bought into that vision?
Mack Rhoades:Yeah. So first it's hard to talk about those two projects without thanking Paul and Alejandra Foster and Jeremy and Kristy Fudge so grateful to them because those both quite frankly wouldn't happen without those wonderful and special, special people. Timeline we're beginning to move dirt and break ground in terms of the pavilion and the football development center. So excited about that. Again, timeline for pavilion we're really looking at January of 2024 to play the first game in the pavilion, hopefully playing the Big 12 season in the pavilion. The pavilion has two components. It has the arena component And then it has the basketball development center for both men's and women's basketball. That portion, the development center will probably open up a little bit later, more like spring, summer, which is good timing, because coaches couldn't move the Ferrell Center to the new development center during season. And then again, the football development center on a similar timeline. For all of those that listen to this podcast and you want to donate money, just know that we're continuing to accept donations. And we still have money to raise for both programs. But the way our alums, our friends, our parents have come together to support these two projects, to support the Welcome Center, the late wonderful Mark Hurd, and of course his wife, Paula, who's a Regent making the Welcome Center happen. But I think it's part of Baylor's resiliency that when given a challenge to the Baylor family, they meet that challenge each and every time. And just so grateful to all of them in the way that they've come together and have donated, have been generous, and really allowing us to make those two facilities specifically a reality.
Derek Smith:It'll be exciting to see those take shape and exciting to see the Baylor family come together on those. And so much to look forward to. One of these days, we'll have to have you on again here to talk about even more exciting things that are taking place. But I really appreciate you taking the time to do so today to put the final bow on this past academic year, if you will, and look ahead to the future. So thank you so much for that.
Mack Rhoades:Well, Derek, thank you, and mean this sincerely, thank you for everything you do for Baylor University and for our athletics program. You do a tremendous job. We love you. And thank you.
Derek Smith:I appreciate that very much. Thank you for that. It means a lot. And thank you for coming on the program today. Mack Rhoades, Baylor's vice president and director of intercollegiate athletics, our guest today here on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith. A reminder you can hear this in other programs online at baylor.edu/connections. You can subscribe to the program on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.